Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Unlike most of his fellow science fiction writers, J. G. Ballard has seldom dealt with the technology or hardware of space travel. His interests lie not in outer space but in inner space, in the interplay between technological change and the human psyche. Therefore, “Memories of the Space Age” is a psychological and symbolic drama little concerned with gadgets.

At one point Ballard likens Mallory and Anne to Adam and Eve returning to paradise. His portrait of Florida—its marinas and parking lots empty, its shopping malls abandoned—is an ironic version of such a paradise. Mallory even sees the animals of Gale’s tiny zoo as inhabiting a Garden of Eden, a state of existence drained of time in which the lamb really can lie down safely with the lion. However, Ballard alters this central metaphor to suggest that Mallory and Anne are like Adam and Eve suffering from a sexually transmitted disease. However, the exact nature of this modern couple’s disease is at first unclear.

“Memories of the Space Age” repeatedly suggests that paradise is static and unchanging. Such a state recalls the common human experience of childhood (and the common human image of life in the womb) as a timeless golden age. The space sickness, whose symptoms include increasingly frequent periods of abstraction and vagueness, seems to restore this state. Mallory even calls the sickness the “dream-time,” a reference not only to sleep but also to the period in which, according to Australia’s native peoples, the gods created the world and everything in it. The memory of this state, Mallory believes, is retained in the most primitive parts of the human brain.

If these suggestions are taken seriously, then the plague that has driven millions of people from Florida represents not a disease but a recovery from disease, an escape from human awareness of the passing of time. Consciousness itself may constitute the Fall, in which Adam and Eve defied God and were driven from the Garden of Eden. Hinton’s suggestion that the space program was really aimed at escaping time becomes not the nonsensical raving of a madman but the insight of a visionary.